A priest I know tells the story of a young visitor coming to his parish’s Easter Vigil, and saying at the door on the way out, “That was incredible! That was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. But if you don’t mind my asking, who is this Jesus you kept mentioning?” It’s a good question.
The Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson, making reference to one of our readings tonight, has a wonderful comment about that question. He says that our Jewish ancestors, if asked who God is, answer: “Whoever rescued us from Egypt.” The Exodus is where they start it all. That is the main event in their understanding of the world: being brought out of Egypt, liberated from slavery and oppression. This mighty act is what gave our forebears their identity and the characteristic word they have to speak. Who is God? The Old Testament answer is: God is the One who did that! God is whoever brought us out of Egypt!
To the same question, Jenson goes on, the New Testament gives a similar, but fresh response. If you ask a Christian who God is, our answer should be: “Whoever raised Jesus from the dead.” The resurrection is where we start it all. The resurrection is the main event in our understanding of the world: the vindication of Jesus’ life and mission, the final defeat of death and sin, the irresistible beachhead of the life of the world to come as it invades our ordinary world. Who is God? God is the One who did that! God is whoever accomplished the category-shattering victory that has happened tonight. God is whoever raised Jesus from the dead.
Robert Jenson describes God by putting those two stories together, as our Bishop pointed out in the most recent issue of our diocesan newsletter, and it’s interesting that we, too, always link those two stories on this holy night. The Exodus, God breaking out his people from slavery; and the Resurrection, God breaking in to the old world of death and decay with the life of the world to come. Like our Jewish ancestors, for us, God is identified by his actions. We know him by what he has done. We believe in a God who acts in history, and tonight we come face to face with the most astounding act of history: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The life of the world to come would eventually come, that tradition said, but later, much later, in another age, faraway like a dream and a distant hope. New creation was only for later. Then (as we heard in the readings from the prophets tonight), then everything could be made right. Then (as we heard in the readings from the prophets tonight), then people could know peace and reconciliation. Later. Later their thirst could at last be quenched. Later they could have a new heart and a new spirit. Later, said that tradition, after this tired old world is all used up. Later, in the life of the world to come.
But the resurrection says something different. The resurrection says: Now. The life of the world to come begins now, in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. In his Easter victory, the future has come crashing into the present. Resurrection life is breaking and entering all around us. Not later. Now. It has already started. It started when the life of the world to come flooded into Jesus’ corpse, rolled the stone away, and launched new creation in the molecules of his flesh.
It starts for the universe when Christ is risen, and it starts for you when you believe. Not when you die. When you believe. When the life of the world to come floods into you, rolls your stone away, and launches new creation in your body, soul, and spirit. Not later. Now. The life of the world to come is here for us now. We eat and drink it at every Eucharist. We swim in it at every Baptism. It starts the moment Christ the Morning Star rises in our hearts and it never, ever ends. My sisters and brothers, this is our Easter joy. It is happening all around us. It has happened here tonight. Christ is risen from the dead. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.